Mountain Man

My nickname, "Goral" means, "person living in the mountains" in Polish. And although this story isn't related to my nickname, it happened on a mountain.

When I was in secondary school, I was on the national alpine skiing team. We used to practice during the summer and autumn and because there are no glaciers in Poland, we had to travel to Austria to train. One week we went to Kaprun, a town near Zell am See in western Austria. The main peak there is called Kitzsteinhorn and is more than 3,000 meters high. A big cable lift runs to the top station because it's too steep to access on foot. Once you're at the station there are only two ways down--a short railway and a tunnel that is typically closed in winter.

We headed out into beautiful, sunny weather for our final day of practice. We took the cable lift to the top station and rode the railway to a spot in the middle of the mountain. About halfway through the day, a big storm moved in. Suddenly, the wind was blowing over 100 kph. Ordinarily, we would have made our way down the mountain to the middle station, but there was only one problem. We had left all our backpacks at the top station. It was our last day in Austria and we couldn't leave without them. The cable lift had been shut down due to the wind so we had to come up with an alternate plan. We decided the majority of our group (about 10-15 guys) would head for the middle station while my friend and I would hike to the railway stop, take the train to the top station and pick up the backpacks.

Almost immediately we realized it was going to be a big challenge just to walk the 500 meters or so to the train. With the wind, we were only going about 1-2 kph. We couldn't see more than a couple meters in front of us and the air was so thin we had to stop every few seconds to catch our breath. It took us more than an hour before we finally reached the railway, and when we did, we were so exhausted we could barely walk. The station was open but deserted, so we located the security camera and waved frantically, trying to get someone to notice us. After about 15 minutes, someone at the top station finally realized we were there and sent the train down to pick us up.

Horecki Top station van de Kitzsteinhorn.jpg

Once inside the top station, we were temporarily secure. We found the backpacks and immediately ate every stitch of food inside them. After about 40 minutes or so we finally had the energy to start making our way back down. We gathered all the backpacks and started to get ready, but the train operator stopped us. They weren't letting anyone out of the station because it was too dangerous outside.

It was getting late and we had to make a decision. Since the railway was out, there was only one other option to get back down--the tunnel. Gradually and quietly, we moved the backpacks, snuck past security, and made our way to the tunnel. When we arrived at the entrance, a sign hung next to it, saying it was closed. But somehow, the gate was open and we walked right through. After about 100 meters, we came to the edge of the tunnel and saw a white wall of blowing snow in front of us. A single length of rope was bobbing up and down. We grabbed on to the rope and inched down the path, the powerful winds pushing us from right to left. The problem was that on the left, there was a 500-meter drop straight down! One second we were looking at each other, deciding if we should go for it and the next, we were clinging to the rope, our legs flailing in mid-air! Thankfully, the wind started to die down and we managed to traverse the last 10-20 meters of this dangerous path. From there, we were safer with every step we took and the lower we got, the more the storm subsided.

One tense, treacherous hour later, we made it to the middle station. Honestly, we were lucky to be alive. Later on, we learned that the top station ended up staying closed for three days because of the storm. All the people we had talked to up there were stuck and we were the only ones who got out.

The moral of the story is to never underestimate how quickly the weather can turn in the mountains. Still, it was a crazy adventure and one day I'll get to tell my grandchildren about the time I was literally hanging off a cliff.

Marcin Horecki is a member of Team PokerStars Pro


Marcin Horecki
@PokerStars in